Sunday, June 25, 2017

The Tipping Point of Cruelty

This piece of video is amazing, one of the best sequences I've ever seen on Rachel Maddow.  It starts as a mundane story about the upcoming Fourth of July weekend, and what happened in Denver in 1978 on a similar weekend, with the 4th on a Tuesday.  It then becomes a story of a successful social justice campaign, that over a scandalously long time, won rights for the disabled--providing them the liberty of free movement on public transportation.

Then it comes up against the current Senate Kill Obamacare and the People It Serves bill, specifically the draconian cuts in Medicaid which will devastate the lives of a large proportion of the disabled.

The climax of this piece is a bit of video of disabled demonstrators outside the offices of Senator McConnell that is heartbreaking and haunting.  The woman being dragged away while pleading "Don't touch Medicaid!" is very powerful video.

This segment illustrates and suggests why this bill is the tipping point of cruelty.  If it passes, it will change America more than any single act of this regime, and tips the future into a very ugly place.

Medicaid is the insurer for a third of disabled adults and 60% of disabled children (and 40% of all children.)  Medicaid insures nearly half the births in America.  Medicaid is by far the largest health insurance provider in the United States--75 million Americans--much bigger than Medicare.

And here's what Republicans are trying to do:

Washington Post:
"Congressional budget analysts plan to issue their projections as early as Monday on the legislation’s impact on the federal deficit and the number of Americans with insurance coverage. Already, proponents and critics alike are predicting that the Senate proposal would lead to greater reductions through the Medicaid changes than the estimated $834 billion estimated for a similar bill passed by House Republicans last month."

This is almost incredible, as most observers assumed the Senate bill will moderate the crude brutality of the House bill.  But this one is worse, particularly on Medicaid.

 Medicaid is not only enormously important, it is also popular with the American public.  The Post again:

"Part of the pressure the moderates now face is that Medicaid consistently draws widespread support in surveys. A poll released Friday by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that three-fourths of the public, including 6 in 10 Republicans, said they have a positive view of the program. Just a third of those polled said they supported the idea of reducing federal funding for the expansion or limiting how much money a state receives for all beneficiaries.

Even among Republicans, the foundation found, only about half favor reversing the federal money for Medicaid expansion."

The money that the federal government won't pay into Medicaid goes directly to a tax cut for the wealthy.

America's first social programs may not have been purely or even largely motivated by compassion.  In the 1930s, even the bankers worried about revolution.  But FDR's programs, including Social Security, put social justice on the agenda, and gave permission to politicians to act decently.

When Michael Harrington published his landmark book on poverty in the early 60s, he estimated that a fifth of the population was below the poverty line.  Dwight McDonald, in his review of the book in the New Yorker, suggested that in practical terms it was closer to one-fourth.

Harrington's book caught the attention of President Kennedy, who had already proposed the program that became Medicare.  Kennedy identified poverty as the domestic issue he would emphasize in his reelection campaign in 1964.  Following his lead and using his memory to get it passed, President Johnson got enacted the programs that made up his War on Poverty.

For awhile, poverty did decrease. But with all the additions and subtractions and the changes in welfare and so on, and the relative decline in incomes in recent decades, there seems to be in practical terms once again, about a fifth of Americans in poverty.  In the statistical models cited here, between 15% and 20%.

The expansion of Medicaid under Obamacare was the single most important social justice effort in decades, as it provided medical care for the most vulnerable, especially poor and disabled Americans.  The Senate bill erases the expansion, and limits Medicaid in ways certain to decrease coverage and increase harm.  Here's a pretty good summary from, of all places, Cosmopolitan.

The Senate version, should it become law, will directly threaten the independence and the very lives of the disabled and the elderly requiring care beyond Medicare.  Many more will be hurt.  In the long run it will increase poverty in America.

Harrington's book is called The Other America. Poverty in the 50s and 60s was hidden outside the mainstream, in urban ghettos among people of color, and in isolated rural areas--in Appalachia for instance--where poverty was often white.  (Even today most welfare and Medicaid beneficiaries are white.)

Today there is homelessness everywhere that would have been a scandal in the 50s but which has become invisible except as nuisance or threat.  Major parts of cities like Detroit look like the bombed out streets of European countries after World War II.  And rural poverty is widespread again, if it ever abated.  But Washington ignores it.

Social justice movements made injustices painfully visible.  With this Senate bill it may be happening again.

If this bill passes, it will pave the way for more self-defeating cruelty in the proposed Republican budget.  But more immediately, this Senate bill will devastate not only the lives of the most vulnerable, but the American soul.

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Free Range Reading

“Literature, as I saw it then, was a vast open range, my equivalent of the cowboy’s dream. I felt free as any nomad to roam where I pleased, amid the wild growth of books.”
Larry McMurtry

Adam Gopnik loves reading cookbooks, collections of letters, and James Bond novels—pleasures, but not guilty ones. “If you can tolerate one piece of advice,” he says, “it’s don’t segregate the great continuum of reading. “”To be a good reader, paradoxically, doesn’t mean being a discriminating reader, it means being an omnivorous reader,” he explains. “You never know what will grab you.””
Danny Funt in Columbia Journalism Review

I'm a free range reader, as Larry McMurtry describes.  I love Adam Gopnik's phrase "the great continuum of reading," but though I wander I'm not exactly an omnivorous reader. I have my interests, which vary from time to time, but I don't read everything.  My selection process is a mixture of idiosyncratic searches and serendipity. In particular I've learned to believe in serendipity.

Walter Benjamin at the Dairy Queen is in part a memoir of reading by novelist and legendary book scout and book seller Larry McMurtry.  I'm reading it now, and it is resurrecting and focusing memories of my own reading history that I'll probably be boring you with later in this space.  But I am reminded that before serendipity was either a research technique or a selection process, it was a necessity.  In the ignorance and restrictions of my early years of reading, I had to choose from what I happened to come across.

Since my retirement from, among other things, book reviewing, my reading has changed somewhat.  Just for fun I've assembled books I've read (in whole or part) since January, to see where I've been roaming this year.  (There are a few more books than pictured.)

The non-fiction books are fewer than fiction, which is itself a change.  Jerome Kagan's On Being Human is the second newest book in this pile, and the only one I got from the publisher as a review copy.  Kagan had a long career as a research psychologist but is also thoughtful and erudite on larger issues of mind and the human spirit, as well as a trenchant critic of psychological research as it is practiced today.  The first time through this book was to find those chapters and pages that most interest me, to which I will return.  It's also one of those books that quotes other books that I immediately want to read.

Kagan is himself sort of retired now, and writing from that perspective.  I'd read and reviewed the book before this, which dealt more specifically with the practice of psychology, as well as an earlier book.  So I was sure to read this one eventually.

Man and His Symbols is a classic work with a long essay by Jung (the last he published) and other essays by mostly first generation Jungians.  This volume stands in for several others of Jung's I read parts of since the election, notably a volume of his collected works called Civilization in Transition, with essays from between the wars and after World War II.

I had an old mass market sized paperback copy of Man and His Symbols, and I carried it in my backpack on our Christmas trip to Menlo Park.  What a great relief and pleasure it was to leave an awful attempt to make mechanistic and poorly designed psychological experiments into a theatrical experience, to sit in the sunny patio of a cafe, drinking coffee and reading Jung's chapter.

But after carrying it around with me since, the book's cover fell off, and its small size couldn't do justice to the many illustrations, reproduced in smeary black and white.  So more recently I located a gently used hardback copy on Amazon and ordered that.  It's one of those books that's probably going to disappear in a few years, so I just acquired some plastic book covers to preserve it.  I'll keep the paperback--I like to open it at random at odd moments when I'm out and about, and usually I come upon something that strikes a spark.

Apart from memoirs, the only other nonfiction books I've read in the past few months are by digital revolution analyst and prophet Jaron Lanier, particularly Who Owns the Future?  Very smart, pretty dire.

This is a change from recent years, that I'm reading more fiction than nonfiction.  It's also different from the preceding months as there are no plays in the pile, though I did read and enjoy a memoir by playwright David Hare, The Blue Touch Paper.  The trail I followed to that one was not entirely new--I got the DVDs of Hare's tv trilogy Worricker starring Bill Nighy (films I'd seen before), and so looked at Youtube videos of interviews with Nighy and Hare that I hadn't seen the last time I'd searched.  In one of them, Hare mentioned The Blue Touch Paper. So once again, Amazon Marketplace.

Hare explains a number of things in this book but I came away still not knowing what "blue touch paper" means (had to google it.)  I can tell you however that by far the dominant color in the Worricker trilogy (clothes, walls, landscapes) is blue.

The last time I committed to reading big long novels was in the 1980s, and they included Gravity's Rainbow.  It was however the only one I didn't finish then.  I happily completed Moby Dick, War and Peace and Anna Karenina. But this year I did it--all the way through Gravity's Rainbow, even following the plot.   The style of Pynchon's sentences, his wonderful descriptions, were always attractive--I'd often read a few restorative pages over the many years since this novel first landed on my desk at the Boston Phoenix, when I assigned a reviewer for our first books supplement.  Finally reading the novel whole was an accomplishment and a pleasure.

The other really big book this time was Dickens' Bleak House, which I wrote about here already.  I got it off my own shelves, obviously bought used.  I'm re-reading David Copperfield and will go on to Tale of Two Cities (which I may or may not have read before) before tackling the massive Our Mutual Friends, once I've had the adventure of acquiring a copy.

The newest book is Kim Stanley Robinson's New York: 2140, a science fiction novel about surviving the climate crisis which I hope to write about in the future.  I interspersed these and other more weighty volumes with some old science fiction written in the 1950s for teenagers, a genre which (again) I plan to write about here soon.

Also a Sherlock Holmes novel by Anthony Horowitz, who created and mostly wrote the Foyle's War UK television series about World War II in the homefront.  House of Silk is a classic Holmes novel in style and subject, though with crimes Conan Doyle probably couldn't write about.  I'd recently acquired the Foyle's War DVDS with Horowitz interviews. It was mentioned that he published novels, so I looked him up on Amazon and found this one.

Flyover Lives by contemporary novelist and critic Diane Johnson is mostly about her childhood in a part of the country near where I lived for a time--Moline, Illinois, on the Mississippi River.  I learned more about that area than I knew, and found similarities as well as differences in our childhoods and backgrounds.  I got this particular hardback book at the local Dollar Tree--not the first or last I'm glad I scouted out there.

McMurtry laments the collapse of the antiquarian/used bookstore business.  I've seen evidence of it--all the used bookstores (I remember 3) and the two or three new bookstores I knew on Murray Avenue and Forbes in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, were gone in the first few years after I left in 1996, apparently done in at least in part by the big Barnes and Noble store that came in.  Then the last time I was there, the Barnes and Noble was gone.  (However, the Squirrel Hill Public Library on Forbes was greatly expanded, with a lot of computers but also more stalls of used paperbacks for sale.)

In Arcata in the late 90s there were four used bookstores; now there is one.  The owners of two of the others continued to sell but only on the Internet. But there are other places now to find books, especially the thrift stores, of which there are many in Arcata and Eureka.  I bought McMurtry's book at the Arcata thrift store run by the Humboldt Hospice organization.

There are still two used bookstores in Eureka, one of them also antiquarian.  I trade books at the Booklegger in Eureka--they make the fairest trades--for credit on books there.  That's where I found Sebold's The Emigrants, which I'm now reading.  I looked for it after seeing it praised in several different places within a week or two: serendipity.  I'm glad I found it.

I heard Roy Parvin read once at Northtown Books in Arcata, when he lived in a nearby town and had recently published this volume of novellas In the Snow Forest.  I enjoyed the reading but couldn't afford the book at the time. I found a used copy later on and never got around to reading it until this month.  The stories are well written and unlike anybody else's.  I liked the first novella the best, although the second was the title story and the third--which includes a evocative description of a long train trip in 1957-- got made into a movie in Europe.  So this one is an argument for keeping a library.  Still, there was a certain serendipity in finding it---when I relocated a pile of books with little in common but that I'd long meant to read them.

My library held another interesting surprise.  Before taking another look at Ford Maddox Ford's World War I saga Parade's End, I thought I should read his more famous novel, The Good Soldier (which has nothing to do with any war.)  I looked in my tumbled fiction section and sure enough, next to several novels by Richard Ford, was a paperback copy of this one.

One of the delights of acquiring used books (including old library books) is the hints that previous readers leave.  Not the manic highlighting--I can live without that.  Sometimes just a name, a few notes, or a telling bookmark.  I once had a first edition of Gravity's Rainbow but sold it when I left Pittsburgh.  Here I bought a used quality paperback--previous owner Joshua Wolf not only signed it, but left his United Airlines boarding pass stuck in between pp. 344-5.  So I celebrated not only getting further into it than I had before, but far past Joshua as well.

With The Good Soldier, this time the previous owner was known to me--an old girlfriend who evidently read it for her high school College English class, several years before I met her. (Along with her name and her familiar home address, she'd carefully written the name of the class and its teacher.)

 That I had it in my collection--evidently for years--was a complete surprise.  I haven't been in touch with her in decades but through her handwritten notes--probably based on what her teacher was saying--I found myself oddly communing with her teenage self.  I was also reminded of how many of my college classmates had attended better high schools than I did.  We didn't get literature beyond Silas Marner and Great Expectations at mine.

This pile of books doesn't include several I started but abandoned.  One was a paperback from my shelves by Anthony Burgess, the English novelist with whom I once shared a deliriously liquid lunch.  But the narrator was a man in his 80s, and I wasn't in the mood.  However, the book's previous owner (Matt Hinton) left a wonderfully enigmatic message on the flyleaf: "The pelicans are flying in groups of seven today." Maybe he took "flyleaf" literally? That and his signature were all he left me.

Some of these books were discrete reading experiences, while others will likely lead to other books--by their authors, or mentioned in their pages, or on a similar subject, which in turn will branch in other directions.  I picked out the Diane Johnson book because I recognized her name, and got it mostly because of Moline, but also because last year I read a couple of excellent memoirs that included childhoods in isolated areas of America--which started with the serendipity of finding one of them in a "free box:" cardboard boxes of stuff exiting students and other transients left behind on the sidewalk.  (In another free box, I found a vintage paperback of the Isaac Asimov s/f classic, I, Robot, which I hadn't read--but I will now.  A book in the hand is worth two on Amazon.

In my free range reading, I don't know how much content I retain, but that's not as important to me as the reading experience, and the sense of things, the added depth and breadth, the connections and inspirations, the interplay with memories, of events and people and feelings.  

So this is an account that suggests ways that books are in my life these days. (I wrote more about it now and again over the years, especially at my Books in Heat blog, which by the way, has some paragraphs about a book in this pile I haven't mentioned--Don DeLillo's outstanding novel Zero K.)

 It probably isn't your typical twenty-first century story, but perhaps someone out there might be reading this and thinking, well I may be crazy but at least I'm not completely alone.

Thursday, June 22, 2017

First, Do No Harm

Among the first to react to the suddenly revealed Senate "Kill Obamacare and the People It Helped" bill was President Obama.  His statement in full is on Facebook and at the Atlantic.  Quoting:

"I recognize that repealing and replacing the Affordable Care Act has become a core tenet of the Republican Party.  Still, I hope that our Senators, many of whom I know well, step back and measure what's really at stake, and consider that the rationale for action, on health care or any other issue, must be something more than simply undoing something that Democrats did.

We didn’t fight for the Affordable Care Act for more than a year in the public square for any personal or political gain—we fought for it because we knew it would save lives, prevent financial misery, and ultimately set this country we love on a better, healthier course."

"The Senate bill, unveiled today, is not a health care bill. It’s a massive transfer of wealth from middle-class and poor families to the richest people in America. It hands enormous tax cuts to the rich and to the drug and insurance industries, paid for by cutting health care for everybody else. Those with private insurance will experience higher premiums and higher deductibles, with lower tax credits to help working families cover the costs, even as their plans might no longer cover pregnancy, mental health care, or expensive prescriptions. Discrimination based on pre-existing conditions could become the norm again. Millions of families will lose coverage entirely."

Simply put, if there’s a chance you might get sick, get old, or start a family—this bill will do you harm. And small tweaks over the course of the next couple weeks, under the guise of making these bills easier to stomach, cannot change the fundamental meanness at the core of this legislation."

"To put the American people through that pain—while giving billionaires and corporations a massive tax cut in return—that’s tough to fathom. But it’s what’s at stake right now. So it remains my fervent hope that we step back and try to deliver on what the American people need.

"After all, this debate has always been about something bigger than politics. It’s about the character of our country – who we are, and who we aspire to be. And that’s always worth fighting for."

On the bill itself, most news outlets agree.  The New York Times:

Obamacare raised taxes on high earners and the health care industry, and essentially redistributed that income — in the form of health insurance or insurance subsidies — to many of the groups that have fared poorly over the last few decades.

The draft Senate bill, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, would jettison those taxes while reducing federal funding for the care of low-income Americans. The bill’s largest benefits go to the wealthiest Americans, who have the most comfortable health care arrangements, and its biggest losses fall to poorer Americans who rely on government support. The bill preserves many of the structures of Obamacare, but rejects several of its central goals."

Passage of this program will not only mean fewer Americans will get the health care they need as it makes healthcare more expensive, a new study says it could cause an economic recession:

A new report from the Commonwealth Fund and George Washington University researchers," writes the Atlantic, found that the very similar House version  "would slash total jobs by about a million, total state gross domestic products by $93 billion, and total business output by $148 billion by 2026. Most of those jobs would be shed from the health-care industry, which would contract severely over that frame. Most of the losses in economic activity would come in states that have expanded Medicaid to low-income adults under the Affordable Care Act."

It's about cutting taxes for the wealthiest, and let the others suffer and die.

That's the Republican credo.  Their greediest supporters see the opportunity in holding Congressional majorities and the White House: more bucks for us.

"Follow the Money" was the catchphrase of Watergate, and it is again for the Russian connection investigation.  But more than that, it is the first place to look for anything Republicans in Washington do.

It's there in the generous donations from fossil fuel corporations, and so on.  As for our apprentice dictator, it is all summed up in his allegiances--in the Middle East and elsewhere, he loves whatever country his companies do business in, and any country that doesn't want his businesses is America's enemy.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Read All About It

To his surprise, the election of a president with zero apparent interest in books seems to have inspired a surge in reading nationwide. It’s good news, of course. “But,” he told me, “if it takes a brutally divisive election and concerns over American authoritarianism to get you to read, maybe you could have started earlier.”

Carlos Lozada, nonfiction book critic for the Washington Post, quoted by Danny Funt in the Columbia Journalism Review

Sunday, June 18, 2017


It's been 45 years this weekend since the break-in that led to Watergate, although for many months, it didn't get much attention.  Woodward and Bernstein began reporting on all kinds of questionable and criminal activity involving the Rs 1972 campaign.  At roughly the same time there were various other stories suggesting dark doings by the White House.  But few people--and certainly not voters--dared to heed any of it.

The famous movie version of their  book All the President's Men lays it all out, but remember what the final scene is: Woodward and Bernstein continuing to type away, while on the TV there begins the second Inauguration of Richard Nixon.  They'd already reported much of the corruption and crimes we know as Watergate.

I was a writer and editor for the Boston Phoenix at the time (though for at least part of this time it was still called Boston After Dark.)  Though my work was mostly in the arts section, I did cover 1972 campaign events in Boston, and wrote  a series of reports on the Nixon revelations.  Apart from the Cover-Up to come, a great deal of what we call Watergate--and the activities that were the basis for several articles of impeachment--were already known, they were in my articles based on mostly widely available information.

I wrote one article focusing on the Nixon White House attempts to intimidate the news media, which went beyond claiming that Woodward and Bernstein and other major newspaper and TV network reporters were politically motivated, unpatriotic, dangerous and (sometimes even) inaccurate.  I recall that my editor gave it the headline "Beat the Press."

So much was known by November 1972. On the basis of all these stories, the Democratic candidate George McGovern called the Nixon administration the most corrupt in history.  He was criticized for political hyperbole.

Nevertheless, Richard Nixon, who was elected by a razor thin margin in 1968, was re-elected with the largest electoral majority in history.  He won 49 states.  Only Massachusetts resisted (as did DC.)  For years I carried a bumper sticker on my guitar case: "Don't Blame Me: I'm From Massachusetts."

With that electoral mandate, there was even greater pressure on the news media. The Nixon White House was able to basically destroy at least one career I know of.  Later it was confirmed how far this pressure went: the Enemies List, the ordered tax audits, the threats to take away broadcast licences, and attempts to intimidate newspapers through pressuring their advertisers, stockholders and/or owners.

That's one difference from Deja-Vugate.  The news media has been much quicker to this story, partly because (I suspect) people in government aren't nearly as afraid of being sources for information, partly because this regime is perceived as incompetent and dangerous, partly because of the Watergate precedent, and basically because they are freaked out.  Then again, everything about this is accelerated.

What isn't really known yet is how the public is perceiving this.  Polls suggest that it's just like everything else, split according to political affiliation.  Nixon and his minions could demonize the Washington Post, and for awhile a lot of voters apparently believed them.  The belief systems are even more entrenched now.  There is a hefty percentage of people for whom the major news media are irrelevant. The criteria for evidence most people would accept is narrow, if they exist at all.

The reporters who quite courageously got the stories of Watergate, along with the patriotism of individuals like Eliot Richardson who refused Nixon's order to fire the special prosecutor, the Supreme Court in ordering that the White House tapes be released to the special prosecutor, and the courage of a number of Republicans in Congress to investigate and judge the evidence rather than just the politics--they all went down in history as heroes (although of course there are those who probably don't accept that history.)  We have yet to note any Republican profiles in courage, but the media and the courts have so far stepped up pretty well.

And yet, an outcome that ends up with the Republic somewhat wounded but intact, which happened in 1974, is not at all guaranteed this time.  This weekend a number of analysts and commentators were floating a dire scenario.

 It starts with the firing of the special counsel, especially if Deputy AG Rosenstein recuses himself because he might be a material witness in the investigation.  But one way or another, the ax will get into the hands of the next in line, and though she has some reputation for integrity she is also basically a political ideologue with little experience in constitutional law.

Without a special counsel able and willing to follow all the many lines of investigation, there will be little proven substance.  All that remains is obstruction of justice, as a basis for impeachment.  Or, even if Mueller remains, gathering evidence and making a case will take months if not years, and so far the assumption that a sitting president can't be charged with a crime has not been tested.  So again, it's impeachment if anything.

Update: As if to emphasize this point of the long haul, Politico notes that on the Sunday shows, Senator Angus King said the Senate's investigation into campaign collusion with Russia is no more than 20% done, while Dem Rep and ranking House Intel committee Adam Schiff  confirmed that the special counsel investigation is "just getting started." 

And pundits from former Republican speechwriter David Frum to New York Magazine's Jonathan Chiat and Andrew Sullivan believe impeachment, conviction and removal from office will not happen.

Andrew Sullivan: And so it seems to me completely plausible — even inevitable — that Mueller will be fired too at some point. More saliently, if his team’s work eventually exposes and proves Trump’s obstruction of justice, the only possible recourse, impeachment, will never happen. There will never be 18 Republican senators who will vote against the leader in this Congress or any other. We will have a criminal in the White House indefinitely, utterly impervious to sanction, and emboldened even further. And he will have brought almost half the country along with him, digging deeper in with every news cycle.

David Frum makes basically the same point about 18 Republican Senators, as conviction requires a two-thirds vote.

Chiat's piece elaborates on the headline:Trump Can Commit All the High Crimes He Wants. Republicans Aren’t Going to Impeach Him.  His reasons are political: the dictator apprentice is adhering to a far right agenda which will preserve his core political support among voters, the same voters that R members of Congress need to win their primaries.  The long version:

"Many conservatives opposed Trump during the primaries because they suspected, with good reason, that his conservatism was shallow or insincere. They worried that, once elected, Trump would abandon their priorities and pursue the most expedient course.

But Trump has not done that at all. The policies or talking points Trump has abandoned are the centrist ones: He would protect Medicaid from cuts, give everybody terrific coverage, hammer the big banks, spend a trillion dollars on infrastructure, and cut deals with both parties. This week, Trump formally abandoned the last possible area of ideological compromise in infrastructure, “clarifying” that his plan relies on private industry, states, or cities ponying up the money. Trump’s budget actually cuts federal investments in infrastructure. He has positioned himself to the right of even House Republicans on domestic spending, and continues to push for their grossly unpopular plan to cut a trillion dollars from Obamacare. “The Never Trump conservative argument that Trump is not a conservative — one that I, too, made repeatedly during the Republican primaries — is not only no longer relevant, it is no longer true,” points out the popular conservative talk-show host Dennis Prager.

Trump is faithfully supporting the conservative agenda, so most conservatives faithfully support him. Their concerns are pragmatic ones about his effectiveness on behalf of their common agenda, rather than moral objections to the legitimacy and propriety of his actions. Trump may have committed impeachable offenses, but the impeachment clock has not even begun to move."

On the other hand, having lived through Watergate, I experienced how a president who won overwhelmingly in November 1972 could be forced to resign in 1974 because he had no political support, first of all in Congress, but also very little in the country.  Nixon's version of the populist/conservative base was called the Silent Majority.  They were especially reacting to the cultural as well as political turmoil revolving around race and Vietnam protests, as well as sex, drugs and rock & roll.

But at a certain point many of them turned on Nixon.  I spent several months back home in western PA during these years and I saw it happen there especially.  Nixon was right about one thing. People wanted to know if their president was a crook.  When they became convinced of it, they wanted him out of office.

The Saturday Night Massacre was a key moment.  Constitutional issues weren't so much the point.  It was that Nixon was acting like he had something to hide, like he was guilty of something.  People started admitting their doubts.

Another aspect of Dejavugate is that Nixon was also fond of the imperial presidency concept.  He said basically that if the president does it, it cannot be against the law.  He was an insecure autocrat, rather than a narcissistic one, but his behavior was similar: he ranted, he was vengeful, he demanded loyalty but showed little of it.  He was also very experienced and a lot smarter than Homemade Hitler.  But he seemed just as crazy.

What is called Watergate started with newspaper reporting that got amplified on the evening TV news.  But then there were the hearings: the select congressional committee, the House Judiciary impeachment hearings, broadcast in their entirety on all three networks, every day.  They were mesmerizing, and all consuming.

I probably learned a lot watching those hearings, though I remember very little.  I know I learned a lot reading All the President's Men: one concept in the book and the movie that is proving useful this year is the non-denial denial.

But basically I look back at the obsession to follow every nuance knowing that it's all time I'll never get back, and it was all time I didn't do work I might have done. And I've had painful assaults of obsessions with awful ongoing political disasters since.  On election night 2016 I knew I was probably going to be drawn into it again, and I didn't want to at all.  I still don't.  Wasting my time following all this and blogging about it is not going to make a bit of difference as to the outcome.  And yet here I am.

I also felt last November, and I expressed it here, that the way that election played out indicated to me that something well beyond politics was going on.  I still fear that's true.  And so even though Andrew Sullivan is an excitable boy, and a couple of major pieces will have to fall into place now for the apprentice dictator to become a real one, it still could play out that way.

Sullivan ends his piece: Over a year ago, in this magazine’s pages, I wrote the following sentence: “In terms of our liberal democracy and constitutional order, Trump is an extinction-level event.” We are about to find out if I was right."

Friday, June 16, 2017

It's Blood Money: Senate R's and Healthcare

Reporting has been consistently inconsistent on how close Senate Rs are to bringing their healthcare bill to a vote, although most recently the chances for that to happen by early July are said to be alarmingly good.

As to what actually is or will be in the bill, nobody except those R Senators involved really know.  The whole thing is being done in complete secrecy.  So far there doesn't even seem to be a written bill, and there likely will not be until it is time for the vote, which will be called only if the R leadership knows it already has the votes to pass it.

So not only is the process of writing the bill being done without outside scrutiny--even and maybe especially expert scrutiny--once the bill is written, there will be no process for evaluating it.

The entire criteria for what gets into this bill seems to be what will get the needed votes.  They are not evaluating what will make the best healthcare system for the most Americans.  They aren't even getting outside evaluation on whether the thing will work at all.  It mirrors the autocratic White House attitude.  It is irresponsible, cynical and corrupt on an immense scale.

From the beginning, the repeal and replace of Obamacare has been a cynical and carelessly cruel excuse for giving more tax breaks to the very rich.  That is, as they say, the bottom line for the R party.

Here is Sarah Kliff at Vox:

"Republicans do not want the country to know what is in their health care bill.

This has become more evident each day, as the Senate plots out a secretive path toward Obamacare repeal — and top White House officials (including the president) consistently lie about what the House bill actually does.

There was even a brief moment Tuesday where Senate Republicans flirted with the idea of banning on-camera interviews in congressional hallways, a plan quickly reversed after outcry from the press.

“The extreme secrecy is a situation without precedent, at least in creating health care law” writes Julie Rovner, who has covered health care politics since 1986 and is arguably the dean of the DC health care press corps.

I don’t have quite as long of a tenure as Rovner, but I have been covering health care politics since Democrats began debating the Affordable Care Act in 2009. It’s become obvious to me, particularly this week, that Republicans plan to move more quickly and less deliberatively than Democrats did in drafting the Affordable Care Act. They intend to do this despite repeatedly and angrily criticizing the Affordable Care Act for being moved too quickly and with too little deliberation.

My biggest concern isn’t the hypocrisy; there is plenty of that in Washington. It’s that the process will lead to devastating results for millions of Americans who won’t know to speak up until the damage is done. So far, the few details that have leaked out paint a picture of a bill sure to cover millions fewer people and raise costs on those with preexisting conditions.

The plan is expected to be far-reaching, potentially bringing lifetime limits back to employer-sponsored coverage, which could mean a death sentence for some chronically ill patients who exhaust their insurance benefits.

Senate Republicans do not appear to be focused on carefully crafting policy that reflects a more conservative, free-market attempt at achieving President Donald Trump’s goals of covering every American at lower cost. They’re focused on passing something, by whatever means necessary. That may come back to haunt them electorally, but not after millions suffer the consequences."

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Psychics Predictions Coming True!

Record hot weather scorches zone from Washington to Boston in Wednesday's Washington Post.  It's Boston's second heat wave this summer, and it's not even summer yet.

'Dangerous,' potentially record-breaking heat forecast to scorch Southwest in USA Today.

Noting that "On Tuesday, some parts of the Midwest and Northeast saw temperatures 20 degrees above the historical average," Think Progress headlined:
If you want to know what climate change feels like, you’re going to find out this summer.

Yes, even if you don't believe what climate scientists say is good science--including this recent study figuring that the climate crisis is responsible for, among other things, 85% of record hot days--you have to admit that what's happening is pretty much what they said would happen.  So even if you think the science is bogus, you have to give them credit as the best damn psychics the world has ever seen!

So let's talk about hot, which you may not want to talk about if it is hot where you are, which is a lot of places.  But maybe it will lend some visceral substance to the discussion.

There are common sense conclusions quantified in studies -extreme heat is bad for your health in all kinds of ways,  and affects your cognitive ability not to mention your temper, etc.  Now there are studies showing how it leads to sleep deprivation and mental health problems.

And of course, it is devastating for the poor and in poor regions, many of which happen to be in hot places to begin with.  A place in Pakistan just set a record for the hottest temperature ever recorded on planet Earth in the month of May: 128F.

Heat begets violence, and prolonged heat without rain that devastates the food supply is a chief cause of wars. (You may not believe that but the Pentagon does.)

  Unfortunately, it's going to get hotter for the foreseeable future, so we need to honor these psychics by recognizing this, and preparing for it, factoring it in with every decision for the future.

In addition to doing all we can to prevent it from getting worse for future generations by invoking this psychic magic of not burning carbon or otherwise sending emanations from certain gases into the heavens.  Before it gets too hot to do anything.  Like think.

The Russians Are Coming (If They Aren't Already Here)

Before the Coverup (including obstruction of justice), and in a sense even before the underlying Crime (coordination or collusion between the 2016 R campaign--possibly extending into now--and the Russian government/oligarchy under dictator Putin) there is the very strangely forgotten Super Crime: the Russian invasion of the US, attacking our elections.

How could this possibly be forgotten?  Maybe in a virtual age we aren't quite up to imagining a virtual war?  Instead of guns fired or cities incinerated there are votes changed and manipulated, perhaps resulting in outcomes manipulated and changed.  Damage that is harder to see, less visceral, longer term.  The ultimate Trojan Horse.

But this all started with warnings by the western intelligence "community," meaning numerous spy agencies in the US and abroad, that the Russians are coming, and in 2016, they were here, attacking our elections,  attempting a virtual political assassination of one candidate, and skewing the outcome to the one they wanted.

Why hasn't this been a screaming headline for months?  Possibly because of this other problem: the one they wanted, the one who got in, denies that any of it took place, doesn't want anybody to suggest it did or might have, and doesn't want anybody investigating it further.  He certainly isn't leading the charge, despite the certainty expressed by all the nation's intelligence agencies.  Because his Russian pals say they didn't do it.

If anything should unite the country it is attack by a foreign power, but so far the public doesn't seem to care much.  It apparently takes an ex-FBI agent to be shocked by all of this.  It sure doesn't seem to bother the Attorney-General.

Meanwhile, more information on the Russian invasion continues to come out, such as this story about a cyber attack that seemed intended to get access to actual voting machines just days before the 2016 election.  According to Bloomberg News: Russian hacking of the 2016 U.S. election reached deeper than previously believed as people with direct knowledge of the investigation say electoral systems of 39 states were hit in the cyberattack.

And guess what?  You know that big congressional election in Georgia that's getting all the buzz because of what it might say about 2018?  It turns out that Georgia's voting system appears to be particularly vulnerable to cyberattack.

And this doesn't even take into account the Russian secret manipulation of social media and Wikileaks.

Some Senators seemed restive about all of this--the Russian attacks, the White House apathy-- during the Comey testimony.  Now, pretty quietly, the Senate has passed--almost unanimously--a package of stronger sanctions on Russia, and more:

"By a 97-2 vote, the U.S. Senate approved stronger sanctions on Russia Wednesday and took the first step toward limiting President Trump’s ability to ease those sanctions."

"More problematically, at least as far as the White House is concerned, the package also codifies into law five executive orders sanctioning Russia issued by President Obama. That means President Trump would not be able to strike them down as easily as Obama ordered them."

According to Politico, the dictator apprentice White House and State Department don't like it (surprise) and are lobbying to stop it in the House.  It also requires a presidential signature, which should be an interesting prospect.

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Apprentice Dictator's Progress

Update: Wednesday's Washington Post: "The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said....The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter."

He was off to an absolutely blitzkrieging good start, destroying (and purporting to destroy) policies and regulations that were almost always carefully crafted as the result of long processes of expert investigation and report, debate among affected parties and often with public discussion, working towards a final product that addressed the problem in a way that most involved could at least live with, and most could view with pride.  His administration is still doing this.  Update: And doing this--almost always serving a corporate interest's creepy behavior. 

He attacked the budgets of departments and bureaus in which mostly decent and often knowledgeable public servants had devoted their working lives to fulfill their mandates and serve the people.  He slashed at every environmental regulation in sight, and served his fossil fuel masters by ignoring the climate crisis and other realities.  He urged congressional Rs to concoct in secret and pass in bullying fashion a cruel and spiteful healthcare bill, one of many acts that are already creating untold suffering, while the Senate tries to finish the job while hiding in the darkness.

Though many of his actions would be symbolic, his minions carried out others that will damage the country for years and generations.  And he did it with no justification other than he, the apprentice dictator, said so.

But then came his most blatant dictatorial acts--especially firing the acting Attorney General, all the federal Attorneys in all the states, and then the FBI director.  To some he gave no reasons, weak reasons or several reasons. But basically his rationale was that he wanted to.  Because he has that absolute power.

Late in the day on Monday an observation by a presidential pal on the PBS News Hour of all places sent shock waves through the media and political Washington: he was considering firing the special counsel Robert Mueller investigating the Russian interference in US elections, including all attempts to interfere with the investigation itself (such as, maybe, firing the FBI Director.)

There were two main themes to the media discussion: First, that as politically crazy as this would be, he just might do it.  Second, he can't do it directly but only through a messy process that would likely see more casualties in the Justice Department than even Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre caused.

It took well over 24 hours and several non-denial denials (as well as a sourced NY Times story confirming that he has been contemplating this action) before the White House gave an actual answer.  According to his spokesperson, it was:      that "while the president has the right to" fire Robert Mueller, "he has no intention to do so."

Apart from the dubious grammar, the statement speaks volumes.  Despite his own Deputy AG (who is in charge of overseeing the investigation, and who appointed Mueller) saying earlier Tuesday that only he can fire Mueller, that according to his mandate he must have good cause, and without good cause he would not obey an order to fire him, our dictator apprentice is asserting the absolute right to fire the guy investigating his campaign and probably him.

On the firing and the context, I can do no better than refer to this column by Jonathan Chiat.  He believes that eventually he will try to fire Mueller, first because he is probably guilty of a lot, and second, because nobody has stopped him so far.  Chiat:

"Trump is almost characterologically bound to test the limits of the system until he finally goes so far he cannot go any further. Firing the special prosecutor is the next unthinkable step before him, very much like all the other unthinkable steps he has already taken."

That's where we are in the apprentice dictator's progress.  A lot of people in Washington, in the media, in the country and around the world are onto him:  they know he is a shameless, know-nothing egomaniac authoritarian liar and thief who demeans the presidency relentlessly every day, who is in it for money as well as power, even as he functions as the chump of the moneybags he and his party serve.

A lot of people know that. They know he is dangerous to the country, and is lawless.  But nobody seems to know what to do about it.  And nobody so far has come up with anything to stop him.

Nobody has ever seen anything like him in this country.  Laws, rules, even the Constitution did not fully anticipate him.  The unwritten rules that everyone accepts have no defense against him.  From the beginning, Chiat observes,"Trump has endlessly violated a series of norms that appeared to be inviolable."

He's gotten away with it all.  So far.  And the federal investigation headed by the special counsel is only one ongoing process to hold him accountable.  As of Tuesday there are now three separate and serious law suits charging that he has (in the words of the New York Times story, the definitive one so far) "accusing President Trump of violating the Constitution by profiting from business dealings with foreign governments."  

The latest is by 200 members of Congress.  Another is by the AGs of Maryland and DC, and another by competitors in the hotel industry.  If any or all of them are given the go-ahead by a judge, it can mean that the family's business finances--and tax returns--will be subpoenaed.

This profiteering is another activity that is so blatant and ongoing that nobody seems to know how else to confront it.  Also on Tuesday, the NY Times business section had a story headlined  Trump Adds More Trademarks in China.

But while such efforts slowly unfold, and amazing headlines assault us nearly every day (along with equally astonishing stories that don't make the headline cut, like Trump’s Personal Lawyer Boasted That He Got [NY US Attorney] Preet Bharara Fired because he told Trump Bharara was out to get him.)

Meanwhile, the apprentice dictator continues progressing towards full dictator status, sometimes in audaciously sad and ridiculous ways, as in a Cabinet meeting unlike any in American history, he received fealty, praise and expressions of loyalty by those "blessed" to serve him.

But as cartoon Mussolini-like as this appears, it is of a piece with his dangerous destructiveness.   As Chiat observes: "His need for deference and flattery is abnormal by the standards of either human beings in general or non-dictator politicians in particular. Trump is an instinctive authoritarian; the existence of an independent law enforcement system beyond his control is intolerable to him."

Another bad/good sign is that his best chosen instrument for oppression, head of Homeland Security John Kelly, is being called out:

"John Kelly’s sterling reputation as a Marine general with an appreciation for nuance led many Democrats to back his nomination as Homeland Security secretary in the hope that he would rein in President Donald Trump’s hard-line immigration and security policies.

Instead, Kelly has moved to impose those policies with military rigor. He has pursued an aggressive deportation campaign; defended Trump’s effort to ban visitors from several Muslim-majority countries; and hinted that he might separate migrant parents from their children at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Kelly has joked with Trump about using violence against reporters and defended Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, amid allegations that he tried to set up a secret back channel to the Russian government.

Today, it’s tough to find anyone on the left willing to defend Kelly. He has alienated potential allies on Capitol Hill, including Democrats who voted to confirm him, and is endangering his reputation as a nonpartisan figure in a presidential administration that has relatively few."

But again, no one is actually stopping him.  And he's in position to do even worse when called upon.

So where does that leave us?  Greg Sergeant's Morning Plum in the Washington Post on Monday began:

"Are Republicans prepared for the possibility that President Trump’s abuses of power could continue their slide to depths of madness or autocracy that make the current moment look relatively tame by comparison? This isn’t meant as a rhetorical question. It is genuinely unclear — from the public statements of Republicans and the reporting on their private deliberations — whether they envision a point at which Trump’s conduct could grow unhinged enough, or threaten serious enough damage to our democracy, to warrant meaningful acknowledgment, never mind action."

In other words, we know what creek we're up.  If there's a paddle, nobody's found it yet.

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Back in the UK: The Great US/UK/EU Unravel Continues

President Obama spoke in Montreal on June 6.  Though he didn't directly mention it as an anniversary of D-Day, the launching of the massive Allied military campaign to finish the Nazi dominance of Europe, he shaped his address (of 30 minutes, see above) by describing the past 70 years of relative peace, growing prosperity and democracy in the West as first of all a result of what began to be created as a consequence of World War II.  It is possible to think anew and act anew, he said, because that's what we did then.

If you need an immediate sense of the widespread hunger for change in America and England during World War II, click on one of the broadcasts by Norman Corwyn that can be heard on Youtube or elsewhere on the Internet.  It came from the bottom up.

Corwyn's broadcasts on CBS radio were enormously popular. For example, one English officer in a Corwin script insists that after the war “things are never going to be the same as they were...We’ve discovered that the idea of every-man-for-himself, that the old class distinctions have outlived their usefulness...” Ordinary soldiers and their families must insist “on a new life—by demanding that the same tremendous sacrifice and energy, the same resources of men and material that are put into a successful war be put into a successful peace.”

Corwin wrote about “the little guy” in America as well, who proved his mettle and judgment in the war, who could do great things when given the opportunity, and who deserved good housing, health and education.

These sentiments were the underpinning for what wartime and postwar leaders did ("though not without hypocrisy" as President Obama noted in Montreal.) He talked briefly about the establishment of an international order, beginning with the creation of the United Nations, that not only kept the peace (mostly) but increased freedom and quality of life.  The changes were "based not only on power but on principle."

The role of political leadership cannot be underestimated, beginning with FDR but including Europeans whose names are not so familiar here.  But that leadership, which began during the war, not only created new international structures and new national institutions (like democratic governments in the defeated nations of Japan and Germany) but by empowering ordinary people, not only politically but in terms of opportunity, income, health and education.

In the United States, there was the GI Bill of Rights, instituted mostly to provide income for returning soldiers in the period of postwar adjustment.  But it was the less emphasized provision for a period of free higher education that changed everything.  Most soldiers didn't use their free money, but many more than anyone believed possible went to college.  Moreover, the GI Bill was one of the few postwar programs that did not discriminate against minorities.  The GI Bill built the future for millions of Americans.

The US partnered with western European nations in the Marshall Plan that went beyond saving millions from starvation to creating economic stability and paths for growth.  As part of that process, closer relationships among nations resulted in the Common Market and eventually the European Union.

Meanwhile, the hunger for change for ordinary people resulted in the Labour government in the UK immediately after World War II that created the institutions referred to as the welfare state.  Both the US and the UK also did two very important things: first, they supported the growth of labor unions which, for all the corruption that tainted them later, were instrumental in lessening income disparity as well as weakening the rigid class system in England and in growing the middle class in both countries.

Second, they both instituted high rates of taxation on the rich, partly to pay for infrastructure and institutions that served the entire society, and furthered economic prosperity. In the UK, this money paid for National Health and nationalized industries. In the US this money built highways, airports, public utilities and subsidized housing in suburbia and well as the cities.  (It also bought a huge military industrial complex, which nevertheless transformed the US map and provided middle class incomes.) Various expansions of rights (sometimes after conflict, as in the Civil Rights movement) and benefits continued.

But for at least the past 35 years, in the age of Reagan and Thatcher, many of the underpinnings of the middle class expansion and a strong and shared public sector were eroded, weakened and destroyed, along with the public support that sustained them.  It seems the further we get from the time when the rationale for creating them was clear, the less we understand their importance.

The victims of these collapses were persuaded to blame each other, but certainly to find fault with governments and political leadership.  Now we find ourselves in a period of deep confusion and disarray, in both the US and UK.  The recent UK election has created political chaos there.  It seems to have revealed a polarization of left and right as complete as the US version, but because of the parliamentary system, it has risked the possibility that a government cannot be formed.  The Conservatives are in disarray, and need additional minority party help they can barely tolerate and may not get anyway, while Labour and its possible allies don't add up to the majority necessary.

I've listened to a lot of BBC radio lately as well as reading analyses, and it seems nobody can agree what the message of that election is, or why it came out as it did. Was it just a matter of a bad campaigner running a bad campaign, versus a tech-savvy Bernie Sanders type of candidacy that brought out young voters hungry for free college tuition and radical change?  Was it terrorism?  Brexit?  Income inequality?  Nobody knows, especially on Brexit, as neither major party leader mentioned it in the campaign.  Update: Here's a later--and more upbeat-- analysis by John Cassidy that makes the most sense so far: Corbyn changed the dynamic by running against austerity, for taxing the rich to fund public services, and for a less severe break with the EU.

And just as Russia won the US election, some observers say that Russia seems the clear victor in the UK, with the government weakened, negotiations with the EU and consequently the EU itself in disorder, and either a weak Conservative leader or a leftist with a reputation as a pro-Russia EU skeptic (or as they say over there, sceptic.)

From this distance it seems that the UK as well as the US is suffering at a particularly unfortunate time from not having good leaders or even good potential leaders.  Just as it's hard to think of a candidate for President worth voting for who could actually win, it's hard to think of a British leader with the stature to bring together a stable government.

But apart from the acute deficiency in the quality of leaders today (imagine if we'd had them in the 1940s)  this larger context created after World War II and especially its deterioration in the past several decades go a long way in accounting for the mess we're in.      

Update: A more optimistic (if news hooky view) on a resurgent EU here at Politico.

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Without Certificate

“Isn’t there something slightly disappointing about our need to equip all artists with a certificate of darkness?”

Julian Barnes
painting: Still Life Centrifugal Expansion of Colors (1916)  by Gino Severini

Friday, June 09, 2017

This Thing and the Next Thing

Let history record that a number of bars in Washington opened early on Thursday.  They served special drinks, often featuring Russian vodka, and one new cocktail called the Covfefe.  They opened for those not watching the James Comey testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee at home with a bowl of popcorn, having called in sick to the office.

And that's the way it is in June of 2017. Aside from the any excuse for a party or tweet-worthy event Washington crowd for whom politics is their reality TV, all this suggests pent-up frustration, the release of fear, the escape from disgust, and a lot of righteous Schadenfreude.   Let this national nightmare, this march to the darkness, be over.  Or since that's unlikely to happen soon enough, let's get drunk and release the laughter.

Here's another indication of where we are: the guy who was the FBI director about a month ago repeatedly called the current incumbent in the White House a liar, and that wasn't even the headline. (Update: well, not until later anyway.)

Comey advanced the case for obstruction of justice and abuse of power in at least two ways, verified that the special counsel is investigating criminal obstruction.  But there's still too much wriggle room to make impeachment a realistic possibility this year.  As long as it depends on what remains basically a he said/he said encounter on the Flynn investigation, and contradictory statements on why Comey was fired, it's not enough to push R legislators to a doomful act.  If you enjoy the spectacle though, you're probably in for a year of it at least, with a number of perp walks (including perhaps, it was suggested today, the current AG) to precede political action.

As for what this tells us about our apprentice dictator, it only confirms and illustrates what we already knew: he thinks like an apprentice dictator, or as E.J. Dionne puts it, an authoritarian who has no idea of what being President of the United States actually is, or means:

  "There has been a lively debate among Trump critics about whether he’s dangerous because he’s inclined toward authoritarianism or because he’s incompetent. The Comey episode allows us to reach a higher synthesis in this discussion: Trump is incompetent precisely because he believes he can act like an autocrat in a constitutional democracy."

But this thing did manage to obscure the next thing.  Democrats lambasted the White House for announcing the name of the man to be appointed as the new FBI director on Wednesday, in a transparent attempt (they said) to distract from the Comey testimony.  But it worked beautifully the opposite way: the Comey testimony took all the attention, and nobody was scrutinizing the appointment.

But it is, as the DC lawyers say, problematic, at the very least.  When the choice of Christopher Wray was announced in a tweet, the first stories were uniformly positive.  He was praised, or at least seen as non-controversial.  But Christopher Wray has questions to answer.

He's known for defending Chris Christie in the bridgegate scandal, and he's a Republican partisan, contributing to R candidates.  Did the apprentice dictator ask for his loyalty?

Wray made his name in the government investigating Enron and other corporations, but since then he has made his money defending them, particularly against charges under the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act.  Not exactly the ideal resume for an FBI director.  Then there's his possible involvement in justifying torture during his time in the GW Bush Justice Dept.

More directly to the point, his law firm represents interests of the man who says he will appoint him.  And even more directly, his firm represents two huge Russian oil companies, that both are mentioned in connection with the ongoing Russian investigations.  This article outlines some of the conflict of interest problems that could compromise those investigations, as well as investigations that may arise involving the interlocking Russian government, "intelligence," and oligarch-run banks and industries.

He may not be as incompetent as most of the cabinet, or as obviously corrupt as...well, members of the cabinet, and it's a big relief that somebody who isn't an utterly laughable stiff is willing to be appointed.  But that's not really enough.  If this guy has problems, there could be bigger problems ahead if they aren't addressed.